HOW ONE CONVERSATION STARTED A MOVEMENT
The True Grassroots Story of Fund-Team.com
By: Janice Panoff (wife of Mike Panoff, CEO of Fund-Team.com)
Mike and I have three kids. Our two daughters dance and play soccer, and our son plays several sports and is on his school robotics team. Throughout their time in Leander ISD in Austin, Texas, we have participated in countless fundraisers for their activities. We’ve sold products door-to-door (Girl Scout cookies, Yankee Candle, wrapping paper, candy bars, cookie dough – you name it) as well as online.
Parents, kids and coaches were always very busy, but we all had to make time to fundraise. Booster club fundraising volunteers were perpetually tasked with looking for the product that would be easiest to sell and netted the most money. If you were lucky, you’d find a company that let you keep 50%. Most of the more reputable ones only were 40%.
DOES ANYONE HAVE A BETTER FUNDRAISING IDEA?
One day when my oldest daughter was in middle school, my mom who does not live locally called me and said, “Can I just give you the money I would have spent to buy products? I don’t really want any of this stuff, but I want to support your kids.” What a great idea! We get to keep 100% of her money vs. only 40% from selling the products.
Flash forward to high school. I was the booster club Treasurer for my two daughters’ dance team, the Vandegrift High School Legacies. We were at an Executive Board meeting when a board member proposed that we use an online email fundraising platform for our next fundraiser. She explained that our school’s band had raised a lot of money using a certain company’s fundraising tool (I won’t divulge their name). She went on to tell us that all students need to do is input email addresses of family and friends on the app, and then they are sent an email to ask for donations to the team. It's that easy. There’s nothing to sell, it’s all cash, and you can reach people all over the country for donations.
In true Treasurer form, I said, “That sounds great! How much is their commission?” She replied, “Well, that’s the bad part. They charged the band around 30%. For smaller groups like ours, they will charge more than that. But the band really made a lot of money even after paying their commission.”
[Cue eyes bugging out and chin hitting the floor]
“It’s all cash, and they still take 30%? That’s outrageous! And they penalize small teams by charging higher commission because they don’t bring in enough money?”
“All true, but let’s face it… it’s money we won’t have if we don’t do it.”
“Hang on,” I told her. “Let me talk to my husband. This sounds like something he could do for us.”
A TRULY GIFTED SOFTWARE ENGINEER
My husband, Mike, is an incredible programmer. I was thinking that a small-scale app like this would be something he could do in his spare time, and it would help our team tremendously. It didn’t have to look pretty, just get the job done.
When I told him about it, he had a worse reaction than I did about the 30% commission. But we needed to do some research before jumping into creating a new platform. There were several email fundraising companies out there that were all about the same. Reviews of some were quite bad, talking about intimidation of the students, the uncaring nature of the salespeople, not receiving their money in a timely manner, and a real lack of customer service when they had questions. Yet they kept using them because there were no better options.
After some intense thought and re-working his schedule, Mike agreed to do it. However, he informed me the platform’s architecture was definitely not simple like I thought (I’m not a programmer – I don’t know about these things); it was incredibly complex. On top of that, he wanted to create a professional product, not just something to get us by. We would get more donations if the app looked legitimate and operated really well.
Mike spent a great deal of time to create Fund-Team.com, and we used it for our dance team fundraiser that year. Everything worked beautifully, and it became our most successful and easiest fundraiser of the year.
BUT HE WASN’T DONE YET
Mike was still incensed by the huge commission the other companies charged, taking excessive money from grandparents, aunts/uncles, friends, co-workers that should be going to support our kids.
He decided to make Fund-Team.com into a product that could be used by other organizations. He would only charge a flat 5% commission. His goal? To help our community keep most of its money and not allow the big commission companies to get any more business from us. In addition, by charging a flat 5%, smaller teams wouldn’t pay more commission simply because they didn’t bring in larger amounts of money. Furthermore, if a team had their own PayPal account, they could use it and get their donations instantly instead of waiting for a check at the end of the campaign.
The Vandegrift Band & Vision Dance Company used Fund-Team.com the next year, and not only did they raise $12,000 more in donations than the previous year with the other company, but they also kept 95% of it instead of 70%.
THEN A CRAZY THING HAPPENED
Word started to spread about Fund-Team.com. At first, it was local teams and organizations that created campaigns. Then we started getting customers throughout Texas. Then campaigns were created all across the country.
At 5% commission, we don’t have much money for marketing Fund-Team.com; we still to this day rely heavily on word-of-mouth. We don’t give it away for free because 5% helps to cover the costs of servers and support staff. The motivation behind creating Fund-Team.com was not about making a profit. Mike continues to operate it essentially as a community service so people can finally have a quality choice and not be forced to put up with – and get screwed by – high-commission companies anymore.
The Vandegrift band has gone on to use Fund-Team.com every year for both its annual march-a-thon and spring mulch sale. In 2022 alone, they raised over $133,000 for the march-a-thon, and their mulch sales were $210,000. Now calculate 5% commission vs. 30%. All that extra money went toward the support of the students who raised it, not someone’s art collection.
IT MUST BE A SCAM, RIGHT?
We often get asked if we are a scam. It’s hard for people to believe there’s a company out there that has a better product than the big companies yet charges so little. We remain a grassroots organization. We are still operated by booster club parents, have amazing customer support, and continue to take away more and more business daily from greedy companies trying to profit from non-profits. We don’t know about the other guys, but I can assure you we sleep very well at night.